Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri
Reviewed by Eddie Daou
A sharp mix of the western crime sensibilities of Joel and Ethan Coen and the flair for dialogue of Quentin Tarantino, “Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri” is one of the years strongest, wittiest films. It’s filled with great characters, well-written dialogue, and a thematically sound storyline, in what could (and definitely should) be an out-of-left-field Academy Award nominee.
The focus of “Three Billboards” is certainly one that feels tailor made for 2017. Detailing a brutal assault and murder, police brutality, and racism, “Three Billboards” rips from the headlines and tries to synthesize them. The film focuses on Mildred Hayes, a rough, tough mother whose daughter was raped and killed several months prior to the start of the film. In retaliation to the polices’ weak handling of the case, Mildred rents out three signs leading into their town of Ebbing and publicizes the polices’ aloofness. This causes a major stir in the town, with many people standing up against the police (which has prior claims of brutality under them) and others standing with them.
But the real focus of the film isn’t on the details of the murder, it’s on the effect it’s had on the town and it’s people. Writer/director Martin McDonagh does an incredible job of making the characters on both sides of the “fight” humanized and filled with depth. They’re a blend of funny, sad, and violent, making for a viewing that’s a wholly interesting blend of entertaining, rough-to-watch, and heartening.
Martin McDonagh is an incredibly talented writer and director of crime-comedies, that much we knew. And “Three Billboards” plays perfectly alongside his other films, “In Bruges” and “Seven Psychopaths.” Fans of his hilarious dialogue and deep introspection will not be disappointed here, as McDonagh deals with what originally seems like a conventional “good vs bad” tale and spins it into much grayer (and greater) territories. Every single line of dialogue is rich with humor and character, delivering some moments that are both truly funny and perfectly representative of the characters. There are a couple of moments where they stretch believability, by McDonagh makes it mostly work thanks to the honesty of the characters.
McDonagh’s fantastic characters leap from the screen not only because of his script, but from some incredible performers too. Frances McDormand does a great job in the incredibly rough, tough, and angry lead character of Mildred Hayes, and McDormand does a great job of making her character both humorous and relatable at times. Woody Harrelson is fantastic as usual, giving a much more down-to-earth kind of his classic type of performance. Harrelson did a magnificent job earlier this year in “War for the Planet of the Apes” and he gives yet another great performance in 2017 in this film. His character, the sheriff of Ebbing, is one that you would assume would be a “villain” opposing the main character, but Harrelson’s likability shines through and help deeply humanize his character.
But the knockout performance of “Three Billboards” is Sam Rockwell as police officer Jason Dixon. Rockwell is the most underrated actor working today, and he deserves all the appreciation he can possibly get. He brings such a unique humor to each of his roles, and Rockwell steals every single scene he is in. His humor makes you like his character through all of his flaws, and his inner sadness and hurt shows through the cracks of his angry and violent exterior. This role feels tailor made for Rockwell, and he gets to showcase all of his talent here. It truly is one of the best performances of the year, and definitely one I would like to see get some awards attention for. And even the smaller roles, of some of the quirky townspeople, such as Caleb Landry Jones and Peter “Tyrion Lannister” Dinklage come through with depth and likability even with their smaller amounts of screen time compared to the main cast. Overall, “Three Billboards” has one of the best ensemble casts of 2017.
The central themes and characters of “Three Billboards” make it a must see for anyone appreciative of this style of film, or anyone looking forward to catch up on 2017’s Oscar hopefuls. With some Golden Globes nominations already under its belt, “Three Billboards” is certainly one film I’d like to see take the gold at the Academy Awards. It’s one of the most well written films I’ve seen this year, with plenty of lines of dialogue that had me cracking up. Though this particular blend of meanness and violence might startle and turn off some viewers, I found “Three Billboards” to be a truly rewarding and well realized film. Martin McDonagh is one of my favorite directors working today, and I’m eagerly awaiting whatever it is he has in store for us next.